A busy beginning – the 2018 lambing

Lambing season 18 (Mar 2018)

You would think that I would have written a load of blog entries for this year considering the amount of farming adventures that have happened, but it is just because of these adventures that my time has been eaten up.

We are almost done with our lambing, we have lost our ducks, we have bought chickens and pygmy goats, dealt with a surprise storm that brought a surprising amount of snow. I’ll break all these adventures up into blog entries, because most are unique experiences worth reading about, nothing out of the ordinary for most farmers, but worth noting regardless.

The first twin lambs born this year.

The kids and I were abroad over Christmas and New Year, and we slightly jolted out of our holiday bubble when Kevin called to tell us that our first lamb had been born, a few days after the new year. We fretted slightly as we were not present to mind the lamb, my daughter got reassurances that her dad had indeed put the ewe and new born lamb into the shed. When we got back the lambing came in regular intervals, one ewe after another.

There is a surprising aspect of farming that I had not expected, the more I learn the more complicated it gets. I am able to deal with more problems and issues, but they seem to be appearing more often than before. For some reason we haven’t had much trouble with the lambing previously, but this time round there has been more intervention needed than ever before. As always, the intensity of the learning curve for me is staggering and exhausting.

As we only have a modest flock of sheep, the new born lamb and mother are brought into the shed, to better be able to observe them and to increase the lamb’s survival rate in the cold winter months. Getting the ewe to move away from the birth place is not always the easiest thing to do, but I have over time learned a few tricks. I make sure the mother and lamb get time to bond before I grab the lamb with a bit of hay, which slightly masks my scent, and entice the ewe to follow, stopping every few metres to make sure she gets to sniff her lamb and continue towards the shed.

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Not the best of mothers, but we still got her going.

Apart from the bonding with the ewe the next thing high on the list at lambing is making sure the lamb gets the colostrum, the first milk, rich in antibodies and nutrients. This first milk will define the lamb’s growth and health, and I spend plenty of time making sure the lambs latch on.

One of the ewes was under strict supervision this year, last year she showed a significant lack of motherly dedication when she continuously walked away from her lamb distracted by greener grass, you can read about it in my post “Farming reality slapped me in the face”. The dehydrated and weak lamb died in my arms as I tried reviving it. Looking back at the pictures and knowing how she’s acted this year, I can conclude that she didn’t let the lamb feed enough as well.

The only reason she was kept is that she is one of my daughter’s pet lambs and hand reared by them. As she was a first-time ewe, we agreed that she would get a second chance. So, once she started showing signs of oncoming lambing, she was put into her own pen in the shed. The lamb had to be pulled out but was healthy and strong. I noted that the lamb wasn’t drinking yet but decided to give them the night before I intervened.

The morning after the ewe kept going around in circles trying to avoid the thirsty lamb. When I checked the ewe’s udders and could feel that they were hard with milk and slightly hotter than they should be, intervention was now necessary.

The ewe was pinned against the wall and I pushed the lamb towards the teats. This also not the easiest thing to do, you’d think the lamb would throw itself with gusto and drink up easily: no, lambs dislike being pushed into the teat and you have to patiently guide it that direction by slowly bumping the lamb’s bottom. Thankfully the lamb latched on and emptied a teat but would not empty the other. Fearing a possible infection due to milk stuck in the teat, I had to hand milk the ewe.

Now, let me tell you that milking a cow is a lot easier as you can get a right hold of the teat and use your full hand to squeeze out the milk (see my post on hand-milking Raw milk in the house). You’d be lucky to get three fingers around a ewe’s teat and milking by pinching is fairly hard work. As this milk was possibly high with colostrum it went into the freezer, as a precaution for future complicated lamb births.

Little Emmy  loves visiting the lambs.

I have taken a good few rounds of pinning the ewe, two to three times a day, for us to feel more comfortable that she will let the lamb drink it’s fill. After a few days it was enough that I got into the pen and she’d let the lamb suckle; today I was happy to see that the lamb was suckling away without my presence in the pen. I did have to milk the ewe again, a few days after the birth, and that milk was used to do the white béchamel sauce of a very tasty lasagne. I might not want to drink the creamy and thick sheep’s milk and there would not be enough to make cheese, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to waste it either.

We are still undecided it she will have to go, once she’s out on pasture we will have to continue to observe her unreliable mothering instincts. It is touch and go and would be completely go except for two facts; one, she is one our girl’s pet lamb, two, she actually has really good fleece for spinning and wool projects (read our post on wool adventures, Making use of all my wool). If not for these two points she would be sold as she requires a lot more work. She will not ever be let out into pasture until we are confident that the lamb can almost fend for itself or at least be strong enough to demand a feeding.

Farming reality slapped me in the face

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When you read my blog you probably sigh over the idyllic country life we have, and for most part it is true. There is always a “but” of course.

Beyond the times you have to walk out in the dark, in the rain, the cold, early in the morning when you’d rather sleep in, work in wet clothes, with cranky or stubborn animals, there are other downsides. Beyond the muck, the dirty sheds that need to be cleaned out, the fact that you become immune to the smell of animal poo, whether it is on your clothes, shoes or hands, or that you suddenly don’t have an issue with walking in in dirty wellies, dragging muck into the kitchen because you are gagging for a warm cup of tea, there are of course other things that really make the dream of an idyllic life on the farm wobble.

It is not a bad track record that out of 10 ewes, seven of them being first time mothers, we have only lost one lamb. But that this one little lamb died in my arms and it was a standard lesson of the reality of farming. My heart was on a thread when we almost lost our first calf, Goldie, earlier this spring (see Life or Death situation post), but having a living creature die while I held it in my arms was completely new to me.

The lamb was about a week old and was unfortunate enough to have a distracted mother. The two were put into the mothering pen for a couple of days, but while they bonded well once they got out, the ewe still easily walked away from her lamb while eating. The lamb did it’s best to follow, but did not get enough milk and I had to go looking for it a couple of times. The last day I found it sprawled out on the top field in the surprising heatwave we had this year in May. Poor little thing was dehydrated and very weak.

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Feeding the lamb milk with electolyte solution for intense hydration.

We did our best, hydrated it, milked the ewe, tube fed it, but that night it died in my arms. I had just fed it and as it seemed unresponsive I picked it up, trying to rub it and to give it warmth. I looked at Kevin and said “I think it is dead”. The worst part is that I wasn’t sure, it seemed to be moving, but it could be just me breathing. I put it down and we concluded that it had just died. I burst into tears, knowing very well that this is the reality of farming. But it was so heart-breaking, after having tried everything and it dies in my arms.

This lamb was born to one of my girl’s pet ewe, one they had hand-fed last year, so there were more tears in the morning. The reality of farming had slapped us in the face, and as my hardier husband explained to both myself and my girls in very simple terms “this happens, often, and is part of farming”. Knowing it and experiencing it are two different things, but know at least we have both.

We might give the ewe another chance. It is something my daughter must make a decision on, as it was bought as her pet and it is her choice whether we keep or sell the ewe. The one thing I am very decisive about is that our farm is not a pet farm. Animals we keep or plants we garden all need to have their use. If this ewe is a bad mother, then there is no point keeping her. If we think she will treat the next lamb the same way she needs to be sold.

It may sound callous, this cost benefit attitude towards farming, but when you have to put in so much time, commitment, physical effort and even emotional attachment, you will be less keen on wasting it. If the ewe is a bad mother, we will either end up losing the next lamb or having to hand rear them. Both options are situations any farmer will gladly avoid.

I have for years been mad about having one or two alpacas. While it might be an interesting project, the monetary return would be close to nothing. They are expensive animals to buy, and the price for one or two fleeces will not even cover their feed.  I’d rather put my effort into getting and keeping bees; not only do they provide honey and bees wax, but are also excellent pollinators for the garden.

We are not dependent on our farm, it is a choice to have it. While we probably just break even from a money point of view, our true return and payment comes in other forms, such as the learning, living, own produced milk, cheese, vegetables and meat, but most of all real life experiences for the whole family…that is unmeasurable. Still, no alpacas or bad mothers on this farm, as there are only so many hours in the day and we do more things than just farming.

 

 

We have more than one little lamb

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A few weeks ago you might have seen the picture of me with our first born lamb, posted on the Casa Ceoil Instagram page (make sure to follow!). Well, we now have more than one little lamb!

We have always been lucky with our lambing and never had any real problems, touch wood! This year we had one lamb born seemingly a bit premature, that’s the one on the picture. But it was on a fairly sunny day and I found lamb and ewe just after the birth. They were brought into the shed and away from the elements, to be able to rest and bond in peace.

The next three lambs were a bit harder to get into the shed. One of the ewes was understandably aggressive and tried headbutting anyone picking up the lamb; the other, being our most shy ewe, had twins and didn’t want to leave the birthplace of the lambs. In a very slow pace, with plenty of breaks and ewe-bullying, we finally got them down to the shed. As the weather turned and the night temperatures fell, we were very happy to have our newborns snug and warm with their mothers, resting on fresh straw and with plenty of food and water.

We are expecting more lambs from the ewes born last year, but when these will arrive is unsure. I am sure that a very experience shepherd could tell you exactly when, we instead rely on keeping them under regular supervision. Fingers crossed that all will go as easy with them; there is a bit of worry as these will be first time mums.

The ewes and lambs have until recently been separated from the larger flock, and we have been bringing them in into the shed for the night. The maternity ward has been our back garden, where they have been keeping the grass low. As the weather has improved they are now with the rest of the flock and staying out at night.

Apart from their love of decorative bushes and flowers, sheep are better than a lawnmower and leave the lawns beautiful. In the back garden the lambs take shelter from the rain by getting in under the girl’s trampoline. I am just waiting for one of them to climb up on it and have the time of her life.

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Finding shelter under the trampoline. They haven’t discovered the stair yet!

The flock is currently visiting our neighbour’s back field and are slowly making a lawn out of it. Just yesterday, as I went to feed them I discovered another newborn lamb. This one, unlike the previous lambs, has been born in smashing weather and was left out as the nights are mild and the days are beautiful and sunny.

Seeing a newborn makes you realise how fast they grow, as the older lambs look now very healthy and strong. Right bullies as well, as they push the little one around. Thankfully it still has the strong instinct of staying around her mum.

Lambs are lovely little creatures, inquisitive, playful, energetic and resilient. Just watching them playing and jumping, all white and fluffy, would make anyone smile.